From Cairo to Cape Town, we are still struggling to pick our jaws from the floor after Donald’s Trump’s unsavory description of African countries alongside Haiti and El Salvador. We had cut Mr. Trump some slack when he had earlier insinuated that all Nigerians live in huts, but our outrage reached a boiling point when he used a colorful epithet to demean an entire continent of 1.2 billion people.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump reportedly asked while referring to Africa. He then went ahead to say that the U.S. should instead welcome more people from predominantly white countries such as Norway.
It is no secret that the leader of the most powerful nation on earth has a mouth that needs to be washed with soap. Either the man speaks before he thinks, or doesn’t even bother to engage his noggin at all. It is a travesty that a man who spews such drivel from his beak was elected into the Oval.
The ‘shithole’ comment, which stinks to high heavens (pardon the pun), portrays a visceral hatred for inhabitants of Africa. It is the textbook definition of Afrophobia, which is the fear of and discrimination against African people and their cultures. Are Trump’s words an aberration or simply a reflection of what the West thinks of us? Is Donald Trump’s perception of Africa, and I shudder as I ask this, a reflection of how Africans really view themselves?
Several African nations, most notably Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, have remonstrated against Mr. Trump’s remarks and called him out for the racist that he is. It pains me that as I write this, my motherland, Kenya, is yet to condemn Mr. Trump. She has instead chosen to fold her hands and silently feign powerlessness—Kenya’s aid relationship with America is too strong for our top dogs to compromise.
But a cursory look at social media in the aftermath of the despicable presidential remarks is what galled me the most. Many Kenyans—and Africans—openly agreed with Donald Trump that African countries are nothing but ‘a basket of deplorables’. It cut like a sharp knife to the belly as Africans, some of them public intellectuals, joined Mr. Trump in perpetrating the centuries-old racist canard that our continent is nothing but an economic and intellectual wasteland.
A Nigerian living in the United States made a Facebook video that went viral. In it, he emphasized that Mr. Trump is right; Nigeria is indeed a shithole country. The man argued, as many intellectual simpletons have done over the past week, that the first step to changing Africa is acceptance, that we should all accept the “shittiness” of Africa as an immutable fact. He said that if Trump were wrong, then he’d not have immigrated to the US in search of greener pastures.
A Kenyan blogger, in yet another viral post, stated that “We cannot dismiss Trump’s comment for he is spot on. Denial is a huge impediment to growth and development. And we must accept that President Trump, a man known to stretch the truth, is for once, right. Africa and specifically Kenya is a shithole.”
A national newspaper in Kenya carried an op-ed titled “Maybe Africa deserves to be called a shithole,” complete with a caricature of a toilet seat on top of the map of Africa.
The spurious notion that just because the continent lags behind economically it deserves to be called a shithole has been mirrored across many countries. Yes, our cities are dirty, we are struggling to feed our people, we still haven’t wrapped our heads around job creation, our leaders seem to only be interested in their own self-preservation… The list of our misdemeanors is several pages long. But we also need to understand that African nations are still young and given time and the right attitude, we’ll be able to spruce up our countries.
Writing in Tanzania’s The Citizen, Charles Onyango-Obbo noted, “Trump reportedly said he wanted migrants from Norway. The Norwegians laughed because compared to their country, the US is a mess. Norway is richer on a per capita basis, has universal health insurance that the US doesn’t. Reports indicated that there are virtually zero Norwegians migrating to the US. However, barely 70 years ago, Norway was an African country, as it were. It got governed better and smartly, cleaned up, and it is where it is where it is today.”
Methinks that Trump’s words brought to the fore the widespread malady that is ‘internal Afrophobia’. By vehemently agreeing with Trump that Africans are second-rate human beings, we prove that colonialization and slave trade inflicted deep psychological wounds on our psyche, and that these wounds are yet to heal. We show that we have surrendered to Eurocentricity and we are more than willing to succumb to self-hatred, rejection of self and self-denigration. It’s a sad state of affairs.
If we are ever going to build our continent, we need to learn how to love ourselves first.
SHADES OF CULTURE